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Monday, 10 June 2013

The Lagarde list and the trial of Kostas Vaxevanis

By @Polyfimos, translated by @Pexlibanis and @anarresti

On  6 June 2013, former Greek economy czar George Papaconstantinou watched the plenary assembly of the Greek Parliament, which had already  impeached him for doctoring a document and engaging in misconduct, vote to expand charges against him to criminal breach of faith in the scandal of the altered list of 2062 Greek bank account holders in Switzerland, known as  the Lagarde list.

Four  days later, Kostas Vaxevanis, the journalist who was arrested and tried because he first published the names on the list on 27 October 2012, is, for the second time, sitting in the defendant's chair for the same court case, after the prosecution demanded a re-trial, because the court "did not give proper weight to the evidence material and considered it very poorly."

This comes after his first trial on 1 November 2012, which, as pointed out by Kostas Vaxevanis  in an open letter to European Commission President Jose Manuel  Barroso, was conducted ​​with such haste that "the original case file did not include a single element of evidence, not even the incriminating issue of the magazine. The charges were so hastily put together that they even forgot to put the official stamp of the prosecutor on the file."

The acquittal of the journalist at the time was based on the grounds that the article published in his magazine did not contain any information beyond the names of depositors in a bank, which, according to his line of advocacy "is not a personal detail, since no one covers their face to walk up to an ATM". An important factor on behalf of the court was the further acknowledgment that the publication was in the public interest.

The arrest of Kostas Vaxevanis on the national holiday of 28 October 2012 triggered global interest among international media, at a time when arguments over the continuing over-taxation of ordinary Greek and the government's complete inability to combat tax evasion were causing trouble to the newly elected coalition government of Antonis Samaras's New Democracy, Fotis Kouvelis's Democratic Left and Evangelos Venizelos's PASOK, the latter being a former finance minister who had taken over from George Papaconstantinou.

Participation in this coalition  proved particularly useful to the PASOK chairman, when, on 18 January 2013, the government majority voted to protect him against the motion that was put forward in parliament for him to be indicted along with George Papaconstantinou, with the same charges. This vote also relieved both former Prime Ministers, George Papandreou and Loucas Papademos of any criminal liability in the Lagarde list case.

In April 2010, while the Greek government was proceeding with the final agreements to enforce the first bailout by the IMF, EU and the European Central Bank, the Lagarde list was arriving in Greece through official channels from the French tax authorities. This was only revealed a few days ago, as earlier, conflicting testimonies by finance ministers and financial prosecutors had indicated that the original date of the list's receipt was "sometime" in October 2010.

The investigation conducted by Kostas Vaxevanis and Hot Doc magazine's team of journalists, who published the list, shows that the case involves a deliberate attempt to cover up the aforementioned list instead of utilizing it, under the pretext that the ministers and financial attorneys who were then in charge didn't know that it was legal tender material, as all parties involved in the case claimed that they had forgotten to whom they entrusted it and ultimately lost the initial accompanying documents and the original digital copies.

The second copy of the Lagarde list, which was delivered again by the French authorities to their Greek counterparts in December 2012, was the reason for former Finance Minister Papaconstantinou's indictment  and his referral to the parliamentary investigation committee, because, of the 2059 names of depositors hitherto known from the publication of the first list, it turned out that three additional names were missing, all of which were relatives of his.

In January 2013, Kostas Vaxevanis published an article in HotDoc, explaining the reasons why he filed a lawsuit against George Papaconstantinou and the current government's junior partner and chairman of PASOK, Evangelos Venizelos. He explained that he proceeded with the lawsuit because he considers the two former Finance Ministers to responsible for hiding the Lagarde list instead of utilizing it to serve the public interest, as well as for maliciously covering up a public document

This came after a televised confession of Evangelos Venizelos, where he admitted that, from March to October 2012, while he was not Finance Minister anymore but merely PASOK's chairman in the midst of the critical 2012 electoral period, he had in his possession a copy of the Lagarde list but failed to hand it over to the next finance minister, Yiannis Stournaras who, in an interview with the Financial Times in late September 2012, claimed that he first learned about the Lagarde list from newspaper reports.

Today's defendant, Kostas Vaxevanis, states that if he is ultimately convicted for publishing the first Lagarde list, in a move which activated at last the French tax authorities, the Greek parliament, the Ministry of Finance and two former Finance Ministers, one of whom is currently facing serious charges, he will not appeal the decision and will go to prison. This, according to his open letter to Jose Manuel  Barroso, is "the only way to show what is truly happening in this country, which has its roots in ancient Greek democracy and claims to embrace European democracy."

However, before we watch yet another farcical trial of journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, in a case where the parliamentary committee appointed to conduct an investigation includes two MPs with family members who have a direct relationships with depositors on the Lagarde list, we should remind ourselves the words uttered by George Papaconstantinou in Parliament on 6 June 2013, shortly after he heard that the new indictment charges against him were approved with 234 aye votes, 21 nay votes and 7 abstentions.
"Since we're discussing the potential offense of breach of faith due to non-utilization of data, the question is: why did others after me not utilize it? Why did they rule that the data can't be used for fiscal purposes? Why did they put the list in their drawer? [...] Are we serious? Were they (Evangelos Venizelos, Giannis Diotis - head of the Financial Crime Unit) held back by the lack of French paperwork to use this information, when the Finanacial Crime Unit can and is expected to use even anonymous information? Why was this data delivered by Mr Diotis to my successor at the Finance Ministry (Evangelos Venizelos) and then buried in an drawer for 16 whole months? Who are we fooling here?"
That is the question...

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